While it shook the conscience of the nation to know that a seer had allegedly assaulted two minor girls sexually, a day after the news surfaced, research by academic-activist Madhu Purnima Kishwar has shown that the NGO behind the allegation is Christian, run by two former journalists based in Mysuru. The NGO in question is Odanadi Seva Samsthe, which accused Swami Shivamurthy Muruga Sharanaru of sexually assaulting two teenage girls.
A court in District Chitradurga, Karnataka, sent the head seer of influential Murugha mutt, Shivamurthy Sharanaru, to three-day police custody today in a rape case involving two minors. The seer, who heads the Jagadguru Murugharajendra Vidyapeetha, was arrested last night, a week after being booked for rape and under the POCSO Act on the complaint of two minors who stayed at a school hostel that the mutt runs. The hostel warden was arrested today as well. A court sent her to judicial custody.
Police approached additional district and sessions court seeking custody of the seer who was sent to jail after his arrest last night. When judge BK Komala checked with prison officials, she was told that the pontiff was hospitalised as he complained of chest pain.
The minor 'victims' have been sent to the very NGO that is an interested party in the case. Kishwar finds this odd, given that Christian outfits have been known to go after Hindu centres, especially popular seers that head them.
The NGO — located on 15/2B Hunsur Road Srs Colony, Belwadi Post, Hootagalli, Mysore 570018 — was established in 1984 and registered in 1993 by two Christians Stanly Verghese and Parashu Lingegowda who earlier worked for a Kannada newspaper in Mysuru. Verghese and Lingegowda had earlier hit upon the idea of their NGO after meeting a sex worker Radhamma.
Founders of the NGO
Kishwar finds it strange that the sex worker confided in two men and shared her sob story. The former journalists claim to have helped Radhamma emerge from prostitution and turn into a women's rights activist. Subsequently, the sex worker died of AIDS, reported The Guardian.
After establishing the NGO, the name of which translates to "soulmate", Verghese and Lingegowda got into the "Total Literacy Project" of the then Karnataka government. Kishwar says that she has observed a tendency among Islamic and Christian outfits to enter the education and other social sector services of governments for money as well as respectability.
While the NGO claims to rescue women and children "trapped in sex work", Kishwar said in her Manushi YouTube broadcast that it was not clear whether the self-styled legal support and rehabilitation work involved "soul harvesting" (converting) Hindus, which Pope Benedict XVI had urged Christians to do a few years ago.
Foreign branches of Odanadi and a strange thing about them
Strangely, branches of "Odanadi", a word foreigners would struggle to get a sense of, exist in the UK, the US, the Netherlands, Sweden and Italy, Manushi has found out. What is odder, these branches are not involved in rescuing and rehabilitating sex workers in their respective countries, Kishwar points out, adding that the UK branch of the NGO claims to work towards stopping "human trafficking" in India.
Kishwar explains this peculiar behaviour by saying that the demand to mainstream sex work is a part of the Western feminist agenda and, therefore, they are left with 'rescuing' sex workers of India alone. The Manushi broadcast said Church-affiliated bodies were funding the Karnataka-based NGO.
How much clout the NGO wields can be gauged from the fact that it organises events in the House of Lords of the British parliament and also the Museum of London, the research has found. The NGO's work has been endorsed in the House of Commons too.
The NGO boasts of endorsements by British MP Virendra Sharma and 'ethical fashion' designer Katharine Hamnett.
There are loyal supporters of the Christian NGO in the UK who ensure that Odanadi's two rehabilitation centres in Mysuru get unrestricted funding. Besides monetary help, the donors provide the NGO with food, clothing, school fees, medical expenses, psychotherapists and staff for education, the broadcast said.
The board of trustees of Odanadi comprise Bally Sappal and Sharon Jandu in the chair, Sarah Carter as the secretary, Yuliya Keselmen as the treasurer, Sonay Yusuf and Naveen Ganpat responsible for events and communication, Sarah Harris and Sean Cleere for journalistic support and Sangitha Kohs for social media.
The US branch of Odanadi was founded in 2010. They host events around the year, aimed at raising funds to sustain the NGO's work in India. Besides, the American branch raises awareness about human trafficking in India. Again, not in their own country!
A sister of then-US President Barack Obama is among the distinguished personalities that have lauded Odanadi's work. Sirf News found out that this woman is a distant relative of the former American president. Maya Kasandra Soetoro-Ng is an Indonesian-American academic, who is a faculty specialist at the Spark M Matsunaga Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution, based in the College of Social Sciences at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. She is also a consultant for the Obama Foundation, working to develop the Asia-Pacific Leaders Program. Formerly a high school history teacher, Soetoro-Ng is maternal half-sister to Barack Obama, the 44th president of the United States.
In Sweden, the Odanadi branch was opened in 2013. This branch focuses on India too and does nothing about prostitutes in Sweden.
The Dutch branch of the Indian NGO opened in 2008, with Natasja van der Lelij as the founder and chair. The co-founders are Yvonne van der Lelij and Hans Walgien. Jacqueline Blase joined the board in 2011 while Leontine Denisse got involved after volunteering for Odanadi in India in 2014. Odanadi received an award called 'Free a Girl' from the Netherlands.
Odanadi recently opened a branch in Italy, the details of which Manushi is trying to dig out.
Explaining why the Indian establishment should be wary of this lot, Kishwar details the policy-making bodies that Lingegowda is a part of. She questions, if sexual exploitation troubles the NGO, why its ilk does not work on rescue and rehabilitation of victims of the Church and madrassahs where such crimes are rampant.
Kishwar not giving the seer a clean chit, not holding him guilty before the probe finishes either
Kishwar ends the broadcast by cautioning Hindus against jumping the gun. At the beginning of the Manushi broadcast, she had said how famous anchor Arnab Goswami had invited her to the show where the representative from the Lingayat mutt was ill-prepared while the television journalist presumed that the seer was guilty already and demanded his arrest.
The academic-activist said repeatedly in the YouTube video that she was not giving the accused a clean chit but would go by the doctrine in law that one is innocent until proven guilty. Kishwar indicated during the programme that targeting Hindu centres and their heads systematically helps missionaries damage the vanguards of the indigenous community while paving the way for widescale conversions in the area.